The opening scenes of Just Looking, directed by actor Jason Alexander, could just as easily be titled The Young George Costanza Story. Set during the postwar, pre-Portnoy sexual vacuum of the 1950s, the comedy follows a chunky Bronx adolescent named Lenny Levine (Ryan Merriman) as he obsessively tries to peep on grown-ups during ”the act of love.” It seems proof positive that you can take the man out of Seinfeld but not Seinfeld out of the man: You half expect a 13-year-old Kramer to fall out of a tree.
Luckily, Just Looking moves out of Porky’s territory and into more affecting (if equally predictable) coming-of-age turf when Lenny is shipped off to his aunt and uncle in the country (i.e., Queens) for the summer. There he meets a neighborhood tootsie (the once-overhyped Gretchen Mol, giving a winsome, small-scale performance that feels like a fresh start) who ultimately imbues him with a deeper understanding of human frailties. There’s no mistaking the film for anything but a busman’s holiday — the pacing is lumpy, the acting’s all over the map, the climax features the chintziest lightning storm this side of The Bride of Frankenstein — but Alexander pulls off enough Challah-mark moments to hint that someday he may be master of this domain. C+